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06 July 2009 @ 08:17
Arc II : Debut, Chapter 03  
Title: Catalysis (Full details, here. Also available on Fanfiction.Net.)
Writer: iluxia
Editor: aventria
Words: For this chapter, ~7500
Rating(s): PG-13 for this chapter.
Warning(s): Language, some angst.
Chapter Summary: In Central, Edward finds a willing mentor -- now all that is missing is a willing apprentice.


II : Debut

We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.
( Marcel Proust )

One step into the bustling night-time station and Edward began to doubt his sanity. Whatever courage that had possessed him when he left Resembool was now entirely gone; whatever certainty he had held in his mind had disappeared into the confusing crowd of people milling around and jostling him. With a sense of inconsequentiality, he slipped through the throng of debarking people, grunting and wincing whenever some careless body nudged his shoulder.

But perhaps it was a good thing that he was not noticed by anyone. He was an eleven-year-old boy travelling alone. He had feared that this might raise questions, but it had not: either it was a common thing for eleven-year-olds to be spelunking across the country alone, or nobody really cared. (It was probably the latter.) This was good, he convinced himself. He was, after all, trying to escape attention—not only because he was a potential interest for the military, but also because he had transmuted his train money from dirt and a little bit of yellow metal he had found near Resembool’s tiny train station. By now, the authorities were probably figuring his little stunt out

or maybe not, he glanced about, failing to see any sign of alert from the authorities ushering along the gaggle of commuters. His alchemy was rather impressive.

“Well, this is certainly earlier than I expected,” said a voice behind him, and oh, by the goddamned heavens he knew that voice.

Turning sullenly on his spot, he scowled up (damn that height) at the man. There again was the blue uniform he was taught to distrust growing up. “Hello to you too, Lieutenant Colonel Bastard.”

The man behind the Bastard (also in blue uniform but lacking the rank) coughed none too discreetly into a hand. He gave the man a once over (honey blond hair, slight tan, tall build) and then turned back to Mustang.

“Come, follow me,” the Bastard motioned towards the station’s north side exit. Ed noticed a slighter tightening of the shoulders compared to when they were in Resembool; Mustang was far more guarded and cautious here, probably with good reason. The man was a State Alchemist and a Lieutenant Colonel (at quite a young age as well, if his estimates were correct)—he was bound to have some enemies. “It is best if we don’t linger outside for too long. We can talk later, at my house.” And then, as if to confirm, Mustang added, “Unless you have someplace else to go?”

Quietly and almost meekly, Ed said, “No.”

Mustang nodded. “You can stay at my place for as long as you need. In fact, it’s probably better that way.”

He was led out of the station and towards a sleek black car bearing the military’s insignia on its plate and front. The other man—Mustang’s subordinate—kindly took his luggage and placed it in the car’s trunk. Once they were inside and snugly seated, Mustang’s subordinate began to drive.

“This is my subordinate, Second Lieutenant Jean Havoc,” Mustang introduced when the car began to move. Politely, Ed greeted the man in a non-assuming voice. “He was the one who delivered your telegram. It was almost thrown into the bin—you should put a name next time.”

You told me to be discreet. I was trying to be discreet,” Ed huffed, crossing his arms. “It’s not my fault if your staff can’t even recognize relevant messages from irrelevant ones.”

“’I’m coming to Central’ is hardly enough to tell anyone anything, Edward. Especially without a name.” The Bastard shifted easily in his seat and smirked down (damn that height) at him. “If I hadn’t anticipated that you would come, I would have totally ignored it.”

“What—you anticipated that I would run away from home?”

Mustang raised an eyebrow. “Well, no—but I did know that you wouldn’t be able to resist visiting Central for long. I hadn’t expected you would run away from home. In fact, I would’ve thought that would be the last thing you would do.” Had Ed chosen to look, he would have seen the sliver of concern in Mustang’s veiled eyes.

Ed shrugged. “Well. Shit hit the fan.”

The Bastard gave an exasperated sigh. “Language, young man.” And then, “Your brother?”

“Perfectly fine now. It’s not him,” averting his eyes, Ed observed the lively lights of the passing-by restaurants and entertainment establishments outside, most of them high-end and far too posh for Ed’s liking. Soon, though, they passed the main entertainment district and turned into a quieter but still rather expensive-looking neighbourhood, where there were little shops and cafes of the type he preferred: quiet and comfortable, perfect for reading with a nice mug of hot chocolate. The outdoor spirit was still about despite the ending summer: he could see chairs and tables set outside in front of the cafes. There were still people milling about—to be expected from a never-sleeping city as big as Central, he guessed.

They remained in silence for the rest of the ride. Mustang had a good measure of mood, and probably already sensed Ed’s reluctance to discuss the matter of his family any further. This was one of the (very) few things he liked about the Bastard; the man understood the reason for secrets, the need for quiet, and the want for solitude. Just as he would never dabble with the Bastard’s affairs without permission, Mustang would never probe about in his personal matters.

The car turned into a cul-de-sac and stopped in front of one of the three houses in it. Following mutely after his host, Ed stepped out of the car and accepted his knapsack from Havoc. The man offered to carry the trunk to the house as well, but Ed declined. “I can manage,” he said.

“You’re off for the night, Jean,” Mustang dismissed the man. “I’ll see you tomorrow. And watch your drinking. Riza won’t be pleased if you’re hung over—you know how she is.”

Havoc gave a shudder of fear. “Yessir. See you tomorrow, boss.” The Second Lieutenant slid back into the car and drove off, with only a nod of acknowledgement to Ed.

“Come on inside,” and they walked together up to the (rather grand) doors of a large red-brick Georgian structure. It was a handsome thing, with quaint glass windows and a primly tiled roof. The path curved away from the cul-de-sac driveway as it made its way towards the front of the house, which was slanted away from the public road and concealed from prying eyes by tall hedgerows and a groomed cherry tree in the front yard. Ed eyed the house critically, its front and sides and the backyard (which seemed to be joined to the neighbouring house’s wider backyard). The entire thing was large.

“You live here?”


Alone?” Ed was incredulous.

“Yes,” the doors unlocked under Mustang’s key, and they stepped into the gloom. An unseen flick of Mustang’s hand and the hall lights came on, illuminating their path and the grand entrance Ed found himself standing in awe of. He would imagine something so ornate only with a lord’s manor—and true enough, the place was befitting of a lord. Especially that chandelier; the faceted cuts of stone and glass looked sharp enough to slit someone’s throat with.

“Who the hell are you, Mustang?” he breathed, wide-eyed.

The Bastard only chuckled in obvious self-appraisal. “Being single and eloquently employed as I am gives much material benefit. I have no obligations to anyone; thus I am free to spend my money as I wish. The military, while quite constricting sometimes, do give exemplary benefits.”

Ed was not looking at the man anymore—he was far too preoccupied ogling the house. They crossed the entrance hall, a wide space with two sets of stairs coming down from the second floor on both sides. He was led up one of these stairs and onto the second floor landing (a podium, he consciously corrected himself), towards and down the wide central hallway spanning two arm spreads. On both sides of him flanked tall oak doors when they stopped; Mustang opened the one on his left.

“This is the second bedroom, the one you’ll be using,” Mustang helped him haul his luggage in. “My room is the one right across the hall. You have your own walk-in closet and bath; use it as you please. I’ll bring you fresh sheets in a bit.”

Suddenly Ed was feeling awkward; he was not accustomed to being cared for by a stranger. “I-It’s fine, I can take care of it myself.”

But the man only chuckled. “I’m sure you can, Edward, but leaving you on your own would be downright rude. You’re a guest in this house, and a guest is always given one’s best hospitality.”

Ed did not like how the Bastard switched so easily between Bastard and gentleman.

“You can go ahead and wash up; you must be tired. Have you had dinner yet? No? Perfect; I’ll get the food ready in a short while.” Mustang walked out of the room and down the hall—Ed followed curiously.

“What’s this room?” It was dark but Ed could see the faintest silhouette of what looked like a massive circular fireplace straight ahead and smack in the middle.

Instead of offering him an explanation, Mustang simply gave a smirk and lifted his gloved fingers—was that a circle?—snap! and a fire was roaring in the middle of the room, subtly supernatural with the blue-greenish highlights threaded through its orange-red. Ed blinked.

The room was not just a room at all, he realized now that he had light, but a library.

A very expansive library.

Wide-eyed and wordless Ed stared at the sight before him, and after three heartbeats of silence, turned to Mustang to worshipfully say: “Adopt me.”

Mustang stared for a quiet moment, as if gauging his sincerity—and laughed. “I think I’m too young to be your father, Edward, and you’re certainly too old to be my son.”

“I’m serious!”

“You’re infatuated, young man—with my books.” Still chuckling, the Bastard walked into the room, with Ed behind him, careful and quiet as if treading upon holy ground. “And I don’t think I’d make a very good father anyway. You wouldn’t want me as yours, I assure you.”

“You can’t be that bad. You’re a well-established Lieutenant Colonel Bastard with a library. With a huge library. You don’t abandon your children in the middle of the night or bring your women home, do you?” and by this point Ed was only paying half-attention, preoccupied as he was with figuring out how the shelves were organized.

“No, in fact, I don’t; you don’t have to worry about that,” and with this the Bastard was dead serious. Ed looked up. “None but close friends have seen my home, and it will remain that way. I rarely have guests over; you won’t be disturbed here, if you choose to stay for long.”

He kept gazing up at the man, trying to figure out why this bastardly person was being so kind to a lost and homeless kid like him. If it was pity, somebody was going to get a very painful broken jaw very soon—but it did not look like pity to Ed, not at all. In fact, it looked more like concern. He frowned. That was even more boggling.

“History, politics, and philosophy over here, fiction and arts over there, that entire half of the hall for alchemical references and scientific literature,” the Bastard quipped out of the blue; Ed only belatedly realized that he was pointing out the organization. “Feel free to read as much as you like; just take good care of them—some are quite rare and therefore expensive—and please put them back in their place.”

The pleasant tingling in the curve of Ed’s neck forewarned him of a multitude of lazy days spent reading. He could not wait until a good sit-down with the tomes. The very musk of aged paper bound by leather tickled his brain; he wanted to read, and the ceiling-tall bookshelves had plenty to feed his surfacing bibliophile, oh yes.

“If you don’t want to adopt me, I’ll marry you for it,” he offered.

The man paused and looked down at the wonderment on Ed’s face. There was this almost-constipated and severely baffled expression on Mustang’s face; Ed thought it hilarious. In the end, Mustang chose not to grace that statement with anything in retort and made way through the maze of shelves. A maze it would not remain for very long; soon, Ed would know them inside and out. “This way leads to the back stairs—straight down into the kitchen. I find it very convenient.”

Ed could understand that.

“Go and wash up, Edward; I’ll take care of the food. The books won’t go anywhere either.”

But it took another good twenty minutes of peeking at the shelves before Ed could lead himself back into his assigned bedroom for a shower.

Dinner: chicken scaloppini, with baby carrots, roasted potatoes, and broccoli rabe. The dish was simple yet still elegant; then again, Ed was being stupid if he expected anything else from the Bastard. They sat in the kitchen, where situated was a smaller table just enough for two or three people. Mustang had suggested the dining room, but it was only the two of them anyway—there was no reason to bother. (Upon sight, Ed felt intimidated by the long table in the dining room; it looked forbiddingly formal and far too lonely for his taste.)

The kitchen itself was not far behind the house’s grandeur. It was tastefully decorated, surely a housewife’s dream kitchen—but despite this, it never lost the necessary economical quality. The place was simple and clean, exactly the way a kitchen should be.

“I’d offer you wine, but you are only eleven,” Mustang was pouring himself expensive-looking white wine.

“I wasn’t aware you troubled yourself with matters of age,” Ed scowled. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thanks.” He really did not care much for the wine, but he refused to be treated like a kid (which he was, but never mind the technicalities).

Mustang raised an eyebrow and examined him from across the table. After a while of quite contemplation, the man shrugged. “Alright, then,” and began pouring a second glass of wine. “They do say that starting early develops one a strong tolerance against it. But only one glass for tonight.”

Ed accepted his glass and politely—yes, very politely, for the chicken was making him salivate already—waited for Mustang to begin eating before himself. Contrary to popular belief, he did know manners, and he did have them—only, he found few people worthy of his trouble. It pained him to admit that Mustang was one of them. (The Bastard remained a posing Bastard regardless of the kindness and concern; Ed was beginning to see the horns of an ego beyond the acceptable normal size.)

His thoughts were distracted (but only momentarily) from Mustang the moment he bit into his first piece of chicken.

Damn it was good.

Flavour exploded in his mouth, and underneath it was a delicate ribbon of something silky he could not put his finger on. He could taste every single hint of spice in the meat: parsley, caper, pepper, lemon, butter. This was the first time he had ever had chicken so good. Not even his mother could cook this well.

“That good, hmm?”

Ed’s eyes fluttered open, blinking at Mustang’s smirk. He never even realized he had closed them. Uncomfortably, Ed averted them to the food, away from the Bastard who insisted upon fuelling his own ego.

“Where did you learn to cook?” and he was (very obviously) dodging away from the Bastard’s prodding, but he did not care. He was not about to stroke the goddamned Bastard’s ego; it had already had enough for the night.

“Books and experimentation, mostly. Cooking is remarkably similar to alchemy.”

“Yeah,” Ed grinned. “My teacher used to say that alchemy was born from the kitchen.”

“Indeed; you have a smart teacher.”

He cringed. “So smart she’s scary.”

“So scary you didn’t even consider going to her place instead?” Mustang paused his eating and sipped a little wine. “You didn’t have to come all the way to Central. Not that I mind, of course, but Dublith is pretty close to Resembool. Surely she would have accepted you?”

Eyes darkening, Ed frowned. “She doesn’t know about what I did,” and he didn’t even have to elaborate any further than that. After a moment’s quiet, Mustang nodded in understanding. “And besides,” Ed added, resuming his food, “she’s very much like Granny Pinako. She wouldn’t have let me out of her sight.”

“Which means no research. Of course. That is why you came here, right?”

He gave a nod. “Part of the reason, yes.”

Mustang pried no further. The man probably already knew. Mustang had been present at the time of Trisha’s waking; if he was as sharp and observant as Ed thought him to be, then he could have noticed even back then telltale signs of Trisha’s fearing and hateful behaviour.

Strangest was how perfectly well Ed found himself coping with this fact. By nature, he was a private person. He disliked other people knowing about and messing with his affairs. Even Al was not exempt from his tendency to secrecy—there were things he talked to his brother about, and it seemed now that this list would only grow even longer.

Following Mustang’s suit, Ed lifted his wineglass and took an investigative sip.

But Mustang, he thought to himself. Roy Mustang.

The man was the only other one who had seen his transmutation circle and the scene of his (dare he admit it?) experimentation upon his own mother. Yes, it was an experiment—and for the past dozen days he had been trying to convince himself to accept this truth. He had not known what the absolute results would be, as was obvious; he had gambled his brother’s life and soul on a reckless attempt to turn over the very tide of nature. As he remembered the Bastard remarking, he came off with a very cheap fare.

But that was not the point. With boulder-heaving effort, he returned his train of thought on Mustang. Mustang.

Surreptitiously, Edward looked up from his plate and watched the man eat. Dainty eating, no way else to describe it. Perfect manners, not even a single thing to insult—a complete one-eighty from the Bastard that surfaced its horns once every half-hour or so.

This man—this oxymoronic, acidly sarcastic, absurdly kind, and outlandishly rich man—was the one witness to the most vulnerable moment of his entire life. This Roy Mustang was the one person who saw him at his weakest moments, who saw his folly and its repercussions, who came upon him while he was well into drowning in his own blood.

And I’m not bothered.

Mustang had seen him in the hellholes of agony, thrashing on his operation bed, reaching out for the nearest barest comfort. Mustang had held his hand—a child’s hand—and Mustang had watched over him in his sleep. Mustang had given him an arm and a leg back. Mustang had given him a safe place to run to.

I’m not bothered by this.

Ed forked the last piece of potato into his mouth.

Why was he not bothered by this?

He did not know.

He frowned. He did not like it when he did not know.

“Is there something wrong?” Mustang peered at him from across the table, curious.

“Nothing, just thinking,” Ed shook his head. He turned his attention to the wine. “What do you call this wine?”

“Sauvignon Blanc,” Mustang explained, “a dry white wine. I used it to lace the chicken.” Just like that, they segued into the simplest of culture lessons, the first of many Ed knew he would get for the while he stayed in the Bastard’s highfalutin house. “Since the chicken already holds some of its flavour, it accompanies the meal well. As a general rule—though not absolute—white wine does well with lighter meals. A small dinner, lunch, or maybe with appetizers.”

Swirling the citrusy taste in his mouth, Ed willed his tongue to remember the taste.

They finished their meal in relative comfort. Ed willingly helped with the dishes, and while they washed the cutlery and china, Mustang further explained the different uses for different kinds of wineglasses. Most of the time Ed spent goggling at the complete collection of wineglasses the man owned. The short lesson was brought to a halt only when the Bastard realized the time and ushered them out of the kitchen with a promise of a continuation of wine lessons and formal dining etiquette.

“How do you know these things?” Ed asked as they went up the back stairs and back into the glorious library. “I thought—I thought these things are for girls to know!”

“It has nothing to do with gender at all.” Mustang glided—how the bleeding hell did the man do that?—towards the little island Ed spied earlier when he snooped around. There was a desk in the middle and overlooking it from the wall a tall arching window. There were couches around the desk, obviously made for comfortable reading, and piles of what looked like laborious paperwork stacked on one side of the table. Against the wall was a coffee table with a phone, a square writing pad, and a mugful of pens and pencils. “It’s good to know such things if you are to mingle with the bourgeoisie, the important people. Apart from saving yourself much disgrace, you’re able to gauge your host’s likes and dislikes, social inclinations, financial standing, and overall intelligence. Best not to be embarrassed in front of an audience, after all.”

Face faulting, Ed stared incredulously at Mustang. “So what—everything comes down to mind reading?”

“Yes, to put it concisely,” the smile Mustang gave him was a dark, sly one—and all of a sudden, an unbidden feeling of danger bubbled underneath Ed’s spine. This man was a dangerous man. “I should get around teaching you chess sometime. I think it’ll do you well.”

“What, so I can follow after you and manipulate the people around me?” Ed scoffed. “No thanks.”

“No?” Mustang sat and raised an eyebrow—again that damned condescending eyebrow—at him. “Are you sure? In this world, Edward, it’s either you manipulate or you’re manipulated. It’s all very simple when boiled down. There’s no such thing as ‘not politics’ anymore. Everything is politics.”

Ed stared, looked into Mustang’s eyes, hard and long. Beneath the deep blue-black (what a strange colour) was a clever Bastard who thrived and flourished within the very fibre of military life. This person, Ed realized, would probably fail to survive as well without people around him to manipulate and peacock over. Business would be another prime career, but Mustang was already accustomed to being a rising military leader. The Bastard was perfect for it, and the Bastard knew it.

“Maybe that’s only you, Mustang,” Ed said, wondered aloud. Mustang was a curious person, one of a kind. Ed doubted anybody else had as prime an opportunity as he to discover the face behind Mustang’s many fake faces. “Maybe it’s because you live in a world where you can survive no way else but through manipulation and power.”

A slow, this time genuine smile crept upon the Bastard’s face. “Indeed, maybe it’s only me.”

“Well, I don’t live in that world.” Ed’s retort was flat.

They faced each other in momentary silence.

“Indeed, you don’t,” Mustang inclined his head, “but one thing I can tell you is that by being here and being who you are, you won’t be able to avoid it for long. Ultimately, you will face a decision no one else can make for you—” Ed thought he was facing too many of those these days, “—do you want to be in this kind of life? Because if you don’t, you need to escape it before it takes you over.”

Ed had nothing to say against that. He had no idea what to say. No longer only mildly frustrated, Ed scowled to himself and bowed his head. The number of things he did not know was growing by the day, and he did not like it. Stability was something he had always lived with ever since he was little, and very few things shook his childhood world. But he was no longer a child now, never mind legalities. He was no longer in Resembool—he was here, in Central, and if he wanted stability

which I do, very much

then he would have to learn how to take control of his own life. He wanted—needed things squarely in his hands. Only within stability would he have peace of mind, and only with peace of mind would he be able to fulfil his research in a way that would not be an insult against his science.

Yes, I need to take control—

He paused.

Looked up.

Needing to take control sounds like something he would say. Fucking contagious Bastard.

Said Bastard was reclined against the couch, perusing paperwork in hand. Mustang seemed serious about letting Ed decide things for himself; the man did not even bother him the slightest in his thinking, instead leaving him to his own devices, which was how he liked to do things. Alone.

“I’m going to bed,” he announced, abrupt.

Mustang looked up in mild surprise. “Alright. Good night, Edward.”

Ed strode across the library and into the wide hallway. He slipped soundlessly into his room and drew the door shut. Unceremoniously, he flopped onto the bed and wiggled upwards, until he had his head on a pillow and his arms around another. The bedside lamp gave the room a soft yellow glow, faintly reminding him of his home in Resembool. Trisha would light candle lamps for him at night and it would burn only long enough for him to fall asleep on whatever book he was reading. It had always been Al who begged to be read stories before bedtime; in the fashion of their father, Ed liked reading by himself.

No matter how much he tried to fool himself into the comfort of sleep, though, it would not come. He laid there wide awake. The light was faintly similar to his mother’s candle, but not the same. Things were not the same. He had voluntarily thrust himself into this strange world of adults and politics and decisions, and now, not even a few hours into it, he was already faced with the decision (he was beginning to severely hate that word) of choosing whether he wanted to stay or not.

But where else would he go, should he leave? What else would he do? It pained him to admit it, yes, but he liked it here, in Mustang’s house, where he was sheltered, protected, taken care of. He had a (gorgeous) roof over his head, (delicious) food on his plate, and (a nearly endless amount of) free time on his hands to spend solely on reading and research Mustang would never discourage him against. If he went back to Resembool, he would have to face up to his mother, who condemned his alchemy, his very blood. So was there even a real choice?

Yes, things were not the same—and they would never again be.

He screwed his eyes shut, as if to push away the foreignness of this new ocean he would now swim in. In this turf, there would be no half-arsing the job—he would be risking his very life if he did. No—here he would need to learn how to swim properly, how to ride out the big waves, how to navigate the reefs.

A grin of irony stretched his lips. Well, the Bastard seems willing to teach.

He would learn—and was not that what he did best? Eventually, he would be able to stand on his own, and then he would be able to pay off his debt to this one man who was now holding his hand as he took his first baby steps into the world. Scared—oh bloody hell yes, he was scared! But he was eager too. Eager to see what was visible, eager to know what was knowable. His mind was wide open and wanting for more knowledge, because he knew that there was no such thing as knowing too much. His life had always revolved around science, and now he realized that it was the one thing he gained from all of this. By effectively severing his ties from his hometown, he would be able to further his science in the exact way he wished, without anyone stopping him.

Without anyone in the way.

Ed curled into himself, face crumpled in the pain of separation. This was almost as bad as having his leg and arm torn away. Tears leaked at the very corner of his eyes—because at the end of the night, after a barrel of bravado and a bunch of fake faces, was he not only an eleven-year-old boy, bewildered and lost? Deep in his heart, he still longed for his mother’s lullabies, even though he knew he would never hear them again.

Crying himself quietly to sleep, he dreamt of a warm hand cradling his own amidst the roiling waves of darkness.

Bacon and eggs, ah, what a wondrous aroma.

Ed blinked into wakefulness, beckoned into the land of the conscious by the wafting smell of breakfast in the air. Stiffly he turned over in bed and stretched, rolling his neck to ease out the kinks. He ended up sleeping without a pillow to cradle his head, having buried his face against it in his crying.

Muttering an oath underneath his breath, he rubbed at his mildly swollen eyes. He was being needlessly childish about this entire thing. He went into the bath, washed his face, and rinsed his mouth. He straightened his clothes, untied his hair, combed it, and tied it up again. (He had yet to manage a braid with his automail; though versatile, the thing was not as flexible as flesh.) Only when he was certain he was presentable did he make to leave the bath—

—he paused and stared at the wall.

The bathroom was actually very simple. One would step in from the bedroom: to the right would be the walk-in closet, and to the left the bath, toilet, and vanity. But right ahead would be a wall—a very unnecessary wall. If he opened a path up right in place of that wall, there would be no need to go through the hallway door and turn back down towards the library; he could simply take a shortcut through his bath and emerge in the library’s alchemy section.

Tilting his head thoughtfully, he clapped, touched the wall, and restructured it into a folding multi-panel wooden door. He inspected his work and nodded to himself. It was perfect—and he even took pains to model it in such a way that it blended well into the bath’s tan-wood-against-white theme. It was ornately decorated—surely Mustang would be hard- fought to find flaws in it. The door slid open seamlessly, and he walked right past it into the library.


Never did it cross his mind that he was tampering with somebody else’s property.

He scanned the shelves and grabbed a random book—Deconstruction and Reconstruction: The Cycle of Alchemy—and brought it with him as he crossed the glorious hall of tomes. Now, in the light of day, he gazed in even deeper awe (if that was possible) at the sheer number of books Mustang owned. It was near unbelievable to him that one man owned this much. And to think: Mustang was yet only a Lieutenant Colonel; Ed drowned in the sheer possibilities of the books Mustang would own as a General. (Absently, he wondered if the man was truly set against adopting him, marrying him, or both.)

When he padded down the back stairs and into the kitchen, the wholesome aroma of cooking food assaulted his senses so gloriously it had him pause in his steps.

“Good morning,” the Bastard casually placed a strip of bacon on the pan. “Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes. Do entertain yourself for the while.”

But Ed merely stood there and blinked at the image before his very eyes. Mustang had donned a dark blue apron over dark trousers and a white shirt with its sleeves rolled up to the elbows—and the entire attire was so very casual that he was thoroughly taken aback. When had he ever seen the man at such ease?

“Or of course you can remain as you are. I perfectly understand if you consider ogling my glorious self as entertainment. I’m more than happy to provide,” giving Ed a smug smirk, Mustang continued his seamless multitasking. He was simultaneously making bacon and effortlessly flipping omelettes, one on each hand.

Stammering, Ed turned his back on the image—now forever burned into his retina—and stepped over to the small table. “W-What’s so glorious about a smug Bastard like you?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mustang, and oh bloody hell that airy voice just grated on Ed’s nerves. “My heavenly looks?”

“Right,” Ed scoffed. “Go ahead and fool yourself into thinking that.”

Obviously most amused, Mustang chuckled at Ed’s sourness and brought over two plates laden with strips of bacon, perfectly browned sausages, slices of ham, poached eggs, and pats of butter at the side. This was followed up by a plate of French toast—enough to feed three or four people, but would probably all disappear very quickly between the two of them. The Bastard was well aware of Ed’s appetite, and rightly so; Ed was not planning on holding back.

“I’m not fooling myself into anything, Edward,” the man said, removing the apron and settling into his seat. Ed poured them two generous glasses of orange juice. “Your first lesson for the day: one can be confident of oneself, but one’s confidence must be justifiable.”

Ed stared. “Basically, you can stroke your own ego, but only if you have ego enough to stroke.”

Mustang laughed.

“What? I’m just repeating what you said!”

“Cheeky little brat.”

Who are you calling so little he wouldn’t fit into the tiniest peapod on Earth?!

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Mustang rolled eyes at him.

Ed ground his teeth.

Short of taking his first bite of sausage, Mustang stood from the table and made way to the cooler, a massive case of steel on the sides of which alchemical circles were etched to provide constant cooling to its contents. The circle was an ingenious piece of work, truly; Ed had examined it the previous night while they were washing the dishes. Energy was fed into the circle through a continuous stream of recycling. When it was first activated, Mustang had probably given more than what was necessary for the activation energy, and the extra he gave was taken by the circle and channelled to the Gate. The Gate then gave the same amount of energy back to drive the circle, and so the cycle went on. The food inside would take longer to spoil—now that was what he could righteously call economical application of alchemy.

“Here,” Mustang placed a full glass of milk in front of Edward, “I guarantee you it’ll work, but you need to give it some time. The body doesn’t fast forward.”

Blanching, Ed pushed the glass away. “Nothanks.”

The Bastard raised a delicate eyebrow. “Why, Edward. I wasn’t aware you so liked your height.”

Ed fumed. “I don’t.”

“Then drink the milk.”

“I don’t like milk.”

“Well, then, which one do you dislike more? Your height or the milk?”

Chewing on his lip, Ed glared at the glass of milk as if willing it out of existence. But there was confusion, oh yes there was, because would it not be worth suffering the vile thing if he were to eventually grow taller? It was, after all, scientifically proven that milk increased calcium in the body and thereby encouraged osteoblasts to produce more bone. Oh, but—the vileness!

Resolutely Ed pushed the glass of milk away. He then turned his full concentration towards his waiting food, eagerly forking a piece of the first slice of ham into his mouth. He ignored Mustang’s disparaging sigh.

“You don’t have to go to work today?” this was a very obvious diversion of conversation, but whatever.

“I leave in the afternoon,” again, Mustang displayed flawless table manners; Ed attentively observed and began to imitate what he did not already know to do. “Half-shift today, thankfully. You’d be surprised at how much paperwork a lowly Lieutenant Colonel like me has to suffer.”

Lowly?” snorted Ed. “You? You’re anything but. You’re a Lieutenant Colonel. That’s hardly low.”

“No, that’s low,” Mustang paused his eating to take a contemplative sip of juice. “Very low, in fact, when put in relation to what I aim to achieve.”

This time, it was Ed who rolled eyes. “The only position I can think of that would make Lieutenant Colonel ‘lowly’ in comparison is Fuhrer.”

Mustang inclined his head in silence.

Ed waited for a reply.


Flabbergasted, Ed goggled at the Bastard. “You’re not serious, are you?”

A slow and devious smile spread Mustang’s lips. “I don’t joke about such matters.”

After a moment’s consideration, Ed said very flatly: “That’s treason, you know.”

Mustang shook his head. “If it was, Edward, then the Military Police would do well to seize and lock up every officer in a position equal to or higher than Colonel.” Mustang peered at him, grave and almost stern. “In this world, everybody has ambitions. Everybody, no exceptions. Men and women don’t just join the military—they do so for a reason. And though there are a great number who join to support themselves or their families, the few who have real ambition are the ones who climb up. Now, of course, there’s the concern of surviving the vicious food chain, but that’s an entirely different matter you don’t need to bother learning about at this point. What is important is that you remember that every person you talk to has an ulterior motive, and if you know how to choose your words and actions, you can make them reveal it to you—sometimes without even themselves noticing.”

“And I’m safe to assume that you’re a master at this,” Ed sighed. This man was unbelievable.
“Well, there still are people I can’t fool out there, but they are far and few in between. Each person has a weakness hidden somewhere.” The stern look had yet to fade from Mustang’s eyes. “You, in particular—you have a devastatingly vulnerable weakness: your family. At this point only I know about what you’ve done and what you can do—and no, I won’t tell anyone else. As I’ve already told you, I won’t betray my friendship with Herr Hohenheim that way, and you are a friend too. I don’t betray friends; it goes against my principles.”

Visibly, Ed squirmed in his seat.

“Things should remain this way, Edward. You must understand—you can trust no one in this city unless you know them very well, unless you are sure they are worthy of your confidence. There are many who would sell out information as valuable as yours for a higher position, or for money, or for favour... I admit it’s a bleak way to view the world, but distrust is something you must always keep. Information is power, I’m sure you’re well aware.”

“Of course,” just nodding along, Ed made good work of his food. He understood what Mustang was trying to say. He swallowed the bitterness in the back of his throat. Indeed this was a bleak way to look at the world, but he was already decided. He would stay—it was the best and most logical choice—and he would survive.

Besides, he thought to himself, surviving did not necessarily mean he had to become a clone of Mustang. He would take Mustang’s lessons, learn them, and apply them in a way that would still be him, that would still be Edward Elric. He did not have to become a manipulating egomaniac; he would just have to avoid people as much as possible and concentrate on what he was here to do. He was never very social, anyway.

Yes, he nodded to himself. This was a good strategy.

He turned his attention back to what Mustang was saying, failing to realize that by beginning to adapt strategies on how to deal with people and situations (instead of just reacting to them like he used to), he was maturing into the very thing he wished to avoid becoming.

“You never did tell me how you knew Hohenheim,” asked Ed, ever-curious. Maybe Mustang knew of what the other Bastard in his life was up to, leaving them just like that in Resembool years ago.

“Well,” Mustang shrugged (still in a very clean and fluid manner). “He was a good friend of my master in alchemy. I met him first when I was about your age, a little bit older. He rarely stayed for long at my master’s house, but he would come back, once every few months or so. I believe he was searching for something. He talked to me about a wealth of things about the world and what he’s seen of it. He is a very wise man.”

“Yeah?” Ed could not bring himself to believe that—with good reason.

Mustang looked up at him with a sigh. “Your scepticism is valid; he did leave you with your mother and brother without an explanation. However, that does not undermine his wisdom and intelligence. Your father was well-versed in many things, Edward, and I believe your intelligence and enormous talent for alchemy stems from him.”

Ed was beginning to regret ever turning the conversation down this lane. It soured his mood to think of Hohenheim, of the suffering the man could have spared his ill mother all those years had he not left for whatever he just had to search for, damnit. He could not deny, though, that he knew that urge to know more, to see more, to research. Was that what Hohenheim left them for? Research? What research could he not have done at Resembool? If it was space, then they could have just made an outhouse or something for the equipment. He and Al would have been more than happy to help.

(hypocrite hypocrite you left home for research too hypocrite)

Inwardly groaning, Ed scorned the return of the Gate’s bloody detached voice inside his head. The rotten thing was just downright horrid when it was not being nice and giving him information.

“What I don’t understand about the man is how he could have left Mom when she was sick. I know he knew she was sick; I could see. I was already four when he left, you know, and I was hardly blind. I am his son, as you’ve said—though what I wouldn’t give for a better father who would have been there to help us,” he spat drily.

“Even if it could mean you won’t have your alchemy the way you do now?” there was the inquisitive inclined head again. “Herr Hohenheim is a brilliant scientist. His techniques always fascinated me—still do, in fact.”

Ed had no answer to that one. He could not fathom a life without alchemy: one of the prime reasons he left Resembool. Alchemy was his blood, his life, his devotion, his religion. He would probably rail the same way the religious people of the far Western coast countries do if his alchemy was taken away from him. He would rather sooner die.

“You know, my first memory of alchemy was Hohenheim,” he absently remarked, forking about his last piece of sausage. He could remember it, hazily, but it was there. He could still feel the coarse hairs on Hohenheim’s jaw when his little baby hands touched the sides of the man’s face, played with the funny glasses perched on the tall nose. “He was reading a book to me. I was on his lap, and we were sitting by the fire. Mom was not there; I think she was putting Al to sleep upstairs. The book was... actually, I don’t really remember which book it was or what it was about. But he was talking about taboos—about how even the worst of them could be circumvented.”

Mustang paused to think, reclining against the back of his chair. Both of their plates were empty now, and of the French toast remained only one. “Well, he certainly knew what he was talking about. Look at you.”

Ed shrugged. He was being strangely thoughtful about this entire thing, when usually he would rather not think of Hohenheim at all. He absently wondered if they were going to have these conversations over meals all the time now, like some sort of disconcertingly warm and intimate bonding tradition.

“Come, I’ll give you a tour of the house after we clean this up.” Mustang rose from his seat, taking the plates. Obediently, Ed followed with ears open. There was much he needed to learn.

arc II chapter 03 ver.1-01
first draft: 2009.07.02
last edited: 2009.07.03

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ankoku_tenshiankoku_tenshi on 6th July 2009 19:51 (UTC)
I like the early divergence here, with the choice between joining politics or not. That was something that canon Ed somehow stayed clean of, which is pretty amazing considering his reputation and position in the military.
夢路 : dreamscape: FMA: Ed - Call me shrimp again and.iluxia on 7th July 2009 20:53 (UTC)
He'll be kind of half-in half-out of it? I mean, he wouldn't want to be in it, but you know, being Edward, he'd try to know as much as he can about the matter of politics despite disliking it.